Remembering the Chelsea Side From 2003’s Opening Day That Started the Abramovich Revolution

Roman Abramovich completed his takeover of Chelsea in July 2003, kick-starting a football revolution in west London that permanently altered the course of the English and European landscapes.

As many as 13 new players arrived at Stamford Bridge that summer alone. Chelsea spent in excess of £110m in a matter of six short weeks from mid-July to the end of August, a truly enormous amount by 2003 standards.

After a handful of friendlies and a Champions League qualifier against MSK Zilina, the Abramovich era kicked off for real when a new-look Chelsea faced Liverpool at Anfield on the opening weekend of the 2003/04 Premier League season.

Here’s a look back at the Chelsea side that won 2-1 that day…

1. Carlo Cudicini

Carlo Cudicini of Chelsea celebrates

Signed from Lazio in 1999, initially on loan, Cudicini had established himself as Chelsea’s number one by 2001 and played all 38 Premier League games during the 2003/04 campaign. He would be replaced by the incoming Petr Cech ahead of 2004/05 but stuck around as second choice until 2009.

2. Glen Johnson

Glen Johnson of Chelsea with the ball at his feet looking to lay it off

Johnson will forever be remembered as the very first player Chelsea bought under Abramovich after the club spent £6m to bring the then 18-year-old across London from West Ham. He struggled to establish himself and left for Portsmouth, initially on loan, in 2006.

3. Marcel Desailly

Michael Owen and Marcel Desailly

The veteran skipper turned 35 years of age a month into the 2003/04 season and it would prove to be Desailly’s last before retirement. The World Cup and Euro 2000 winner had been at Chelsea for six years by the time he finished, winning the FA Cup with the club in 2000.  

4. John Terry

John Terry of Chelsea with the ball at his feet

The 2003/04 campaign was the last season in which Terry wasn’t Chelsea captain. At the age of 22, the home-grown star was still an emerging talent for the visit to Anfield, although he had been a regular since 2000. His first England start came mere days after this game.

5. Wayne Bridge

Wayne Bridge of Chelsea running with the ball

Bridge was making his league debut for Chelsea on opening weekend in August 2003. He had joined from Southampton for £7m, with veteran Graeme Le Saux heading the other way, and stayed at Stamford Bridge until Manchester City bought him in 2009.

6. Jesper Gronkjaer

Jesper Gronkjaer of Chelsea with the ball at his feet

Danish winger Gronkjaer was the player whose shot cannoned in off the post and won the game that Chelsea had played against Liverpool on the final day of the previous season that determined which of the two clubs would earn a place in the Champions League.

That moment cannot be understated because it was allegedly the lure of the Champions League that led Abramovich to choose Chelsea when he was looking to buy a club.  

7. Geremi

Geremi of Chelsea charging forward with the ball

An early buy of the Abramovich era, Geremi was snapped up for a shade under £7m after an impressive 2002/03 on loan at Middlesbrough was followed by a strong Confederations Cup with Cameroon in the summer. He played 39 times in all competitions in 2003/04 but became a fringe player under Mourinho.

8. Juan Sebastian Veron

Juan Sebastian Veron of Chelsea celebrates after scoring

It took Veron just 24 minutes of his league debut for Chelsea to open his scoring account after a £15m summer move from Manchester United. It proved to be the highlight of his time at the club, with injuries limiting him to just 14 total appearances. Later joined Inter on loan.

9. Frank Lampard

Frank Lampard of Chelsea charges forward with the ball

The 2003/04 season was essentially Lampard’s breakout season at Chelsea after an initial struggle to justify his £11m move from West Ham in 2001. He scored double figures in the Premier League for the first time, starting a run of 10 consecutive years that he would do it.

10. Damien Duff

Damien Duff of Chelsea charges forward with the ball at his feet

Duff was Chelsea’s record signing at £17m when he joined from Blackburn as the fourth new buy of the Abramovich era and remained so for a whole year until Didier Drogba arrived from Marseille in July 2004. He initially remained a regular under Mourinho but then left in 2006.

11. Eidur Gudjohnsen

Chelsea's Eidur Gudjohnsen races down th

A Chelsea player since 2000, Gudjohnsen could only manage six Premier League goals during the 2003/04 campaign but then doubled his tally the following season when the club won the league under Mourinho. He left for Barcelona in 2006 and became a journeyman.

12. Substitutes

Jimmy Flyod Hasselbaink of Chelsea scores the winning goal

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink – Came off the bench to score a late winner. This would be the 2000/01 Premier League Golden Boot winner’s fourth and final season at Chelsea.

William Gallas – The Frenchman pre-dated the Abramovich after arriving from Marseille in 2001, but he remained an important player for the club until leaving in 2006.

Joe Cole – Made his Chelsea debut a few days earlier in the Champions League qualifier following a £6.6m move from West Ham. Won three Premier League titles in seven years.

13. Manager – Claudio Ranieri

Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri signals instructions to his players

‘The Tinkerman’ barely spoke a word of English when he was first hired by chairman Ken Bates in the summer of 2000 but was a popular cult figure.

He initially kept his job when Abramovich’s takeover was completed, steering Chelsea to second place in the league – a highest finish since 1955 – and a Champions League semi-final, but made way for Jose Mourinho at the end of the season.

14. Yet to Arrive by Opening Day

Hernan Crespo Chelsea's new signing and Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri

Adrian Mutu – Had been signed before the Premier League campaign kicked off but didn’t make his Chelsea debut until a week later. He scored four goals in his three appearances for the club, although he soon hit a drought and was later sacked after failing a drug test.

Hernan Crespo – Formerly the most expensive player in the world, the Argentine striker signed for £16.8m from Inter and scored 20 Premier League goals in two seasons at Chelsea either side of a loan back in Italy with AC Milan.

Claude Makelele – The last signing of the summer. The French midfield destroyer arrived on transfer deadline day from Real Madrid and proved to be the key man as Chelsea later won back-to-back Premier League titles in 2004/05 and 2005/06.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.